Latinos in the Movies: How 'Spy Kids' Became Robert Rodriguez's Greatest Triumph
The director relied on his family to create the characters in Spy Kids, but the studio didn't think that Latinos represented the entire audience.
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"When you do something new, you're going to have a question and you have to have a good answer," film director Robert Rodriguez said during a Comic-Con panel he participated in on Thursday, where he explained his efforts to convince the studio sponsors that the characters in the film Spy Kids were a Latino family.
The filmmaker was answering a question at the time about what had been his biggest triumph in the 30 years he's been in film, and he didn't hesitate.
"There were no roles written for Latinos at that time, back in 1999, nor were there any castings. If I wasn't Latino, I would have given up the fight," Rodriguez confessed, admitting he had to be really persuasive, as there were fears that a mostly Hispanic cast would limit the audience.
"They weren't being idiots or anything, they just never saw it before," he said.
In the first film of the Spy Kids franchise, the two Cortez family children, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) must save their two spy parents, played by Carla Gugino and Antonio Banderas, from villains who want to dominate the world.
"For me it was a great victory... having the Spy Kids as a Latino family. The study said, 'Why do you make them Latino and not American,'" Rodriguez said. "They're Americans, they're based on my family."
In fact, the characters are named for relatives of Rodriguez, who were born in San Antonio of Mexican descent and admitted the inspiration for his film came from his uncle, Gregorio Rodriguez, who worked for the FBI.
While executives at Dimension Films were initially unhappy with the idea, seeing the Latino cast as too broad — it also included Danny Trejo and Cheech Marin — Rodriguez was able to talk some sense into them with a phrase that would somehow shape the future of inclusive filmmaking in the decades to come:
"You don't have to be British to enjoy James Bond. By being more specific, you're being more universal," the filmmaker assured them.
Spy Kids raised $148 million with a budget of $35 million and spawned three more films, a series on Netflix, and all sorts of video games, books and even the Machete franchise.
Rodriguez also recognized his responsibility as a storyteller to tell stories from other perspectives and to give visibility to a large part of the population that is not represented in the cinema:
"For those who are Latino, in particular, it means a lot. It changes their whole future about what is possible," he concluded.
Now he is working on his next family production for Netflix, We Can Be Heroes, which follows in the wake of the Spy Kids universe and focuses on the adventures of the daughter of a retired superhero who brings together other kids with superpowers to stop an alien invasion.
The film will feature actor Pedro Pascal (Narcos, Wonder Woman 1984) as one of its protagonists, as well as actors Christian Slater (Mr. Robot), Yaya Gosselin (FBI Most Wanted) and Akira Akbar (Captain Marvel).